02/11/2007, Buenavista Cay, Jumentos Islands, Bahamas
Beach Bonfire with Tabitha's Crew
This morning was a slow starter. Although I was up at the normal 6:30, there is no weather report at 6:40, so I just updated a few GRIB files, and all seemed fairly good, so we settled in for the day. I am reading a book titled Galileo's Daughter, which is based on correspondence between Galileo and his daughter, Sister Marie Celeste, in a monastery. It relates, through the letters, Galileo's career and his trials (very real in front of the Inquisition) with the Catholic church when he tried to defend Copernicus view that the earth orbits the sun, not vice versa. Interesting. So I spent a good part of the morning on poor Galileo's tribulations. But then I decided to attend to the anchor. When we arrived last night, we set the anchor, and as usual, backed down on it to set it. But we obviously snagged it on a rock. The boat stopped with a jerk and swung back. So although we were firmly anchored, I didn't like being snagged. If for any reason we needed to depart in a rush, I knew that the anchor would not come up. But it was a calm sunny morning, so we decided to postpone the anchor task and dinghied down the shore for a walk on the three mile beach totally alone. Back at the boat, we had lunch and I read some more about poor Galileo's tribulations, then time to deal with the anchor. I got on the wet suit and dived on it, pulling it out from under the rock and re-setting it in a sandy patch. This is a typical problem here in the Jumentos. The holding is very poor. And now that we are looking at weather, the shift of winds to the south, then through to the west, with all the anchorages exposed, means its time to go. It is a shame, as it is beautiful here, with only a few boats here, almost (as it really was a few years ago) totally isolated. But we have had a beautiful time here and will remember it forever as a beautiful spot. It reminds us in the rugged nature of the landscape and the coast, of the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia, except no fog! So with the anchor re-set, we went off snorkeling, first at a small coral patch we passed earlier in the morning. It was very nice, and I harrassed some fish, but didn't really damage the stocks. But Jeannie didn't feel comfortable with the large Barracuda that kept watching us, so we moved to another site for a nice swim. Then I decided to do some fishing and got some bait and went off. But two triggerfish (blue weird looking fish that I would be cautious of eating) and a tiny grouper later, I returned to the boat to pick up Jeannie to go ashore with Tabitha's crew for a bonfire (and to burn garbage that was accumulating and making its presence known). On the beach, Elspeth recited from memory the poem "I must Go Down To The Sea Again" by John Maisfield. It was very nice and very impressive. We had drinks and appetizers on the beach and watched the sun set, then returned to the boat for a Conch currie and called it a night. Tomorrow we will start back.
02/10/2007, Buenavista Cay, Jumentos Islands, Bahamas
Yesterday I posted the blog early by mistake, so didn't finish the day out. We finished the day at Jamaica Cay, where in early afternoon we pulled in to a beautiful anchorage with one boat. As we approached, the skipper came out on deck. Never sure of our welcome, we approached cautiously, and asked about the holding (anchoring). With that we got a warm reception, with lots of advice on anchoring, snorkeling, what was ashore, and all. They had been there alone for two weeks, and were obviously ready to talk! I thought I saw a Canadian flag fur led, so I asked them where they were from. They are from Shediac, New Brunswick, Jeannie's home town. There names are Peter and Linda Walsh. Linda was Linda Schneider. In fact Linda grew up on Sackville Street, the same one as Jeannie. And she asked if Fraser was Jeannie's brother (as he is)! So we anchored and went over and had a great chat about friends and acquaintances. We snorkeled some beautiful coral, and went ashore to look at the abandoned remains of someone's failed attempt at a resort. There are a few boarded up buildings slowly decaying, a backhoe quietly rusting, and some concrete steps down to the beach. But it makes a beautiful setting for an anchorage, and we really enjoyed it. After snorkeling, we walked the beaches and explored the buildings, and, talking to the Walshes, watched three boats we were with in Flamingo Cay come in and anchor. So if the Walshes wanted company, they got their wish. The three that came in were the group who taught us to clean conch, so we welcomed them. They had planned to spend the night up at Man of War Cay, about 5 miles up, to snorkel for lobster, but couldn't get their anchors to hold, so gave up and joined us. And it took them some time at Jamaica Cay to get them set as well, as the bottom is largely just exposed flat rock with nothing tfor the anchor to dig in on. Because we had come earlier, we were able to set ours in sand, which, even in 20', is clearly visible. They all took off and returned an hour later with 5 lobster, so we decided it's time to try harder! So this morning, before we left, we tried again but found nothing. In the beautiful (and, for the Jumentos, unusual) light winds, we decided to head for Buenavista Cay, about 20 miles south, with a lunch and snorkeling stop at a small cay about half way down. We invited Elspeth and Peta Orme (the two girls from Tabitha) to sail with us, so we had company for the morning which we enjoyed very much. With the anchors down at Seal Cay, and lunch over, we headed off armed for battle. And we were successful!!! Well, sort of. Eric found one, and after chasing it around, I managed to spear it. So tonight's appetizer will be Broiled Lobster Tail for Five!! Buenavista Cay is one of the larger cays in the Jumentos group, and has a long sandy beach running its full length on the westward side, so we anchored off it, arriving at 5:15 pm, just in time to get settled and watch another beautiful sunset.
02/09/2007, Jamaica Cay, Jumentos Islands, Bahamas
Well, the wind went down, but not until it had just about shaken the teeth out of our heads. But we did have a nice quiet night, although the roll, quite small, was always present. This morning, after listening to the weather, we went to explore a bit and found a cave that we dinghied into! It had a small hole through which we crawled to get out the back and see into the center of the cay. Then we climbed a path up to the cay's highest point where we climbed a small navigation beacon. It is the sum total of all the navigation marks in the entire Jumentos. And the charts aren't all that accurate either, so our navigation is mostly what the charts call VPR, or Visual Pilot Rules. But there are very few accidents for all that. After our little hike, we hoisted our anchors (I put out two yesterday, and was very glad I had when the wind piped up) and set off for Jamaica Cay, about 10 miles away. In the light (5 knots) we decided to motor to give ourselves time to look around when we got there, and to charge the batteries. And half way down, the reel screamed again. This one was big, and it took me over a half hour to land (and release) a 4' barracuda. Except that I wanted my lure back, I would have preferred to cut the line than risk his sharp teeth, but luckily, Jeannie's cousin Sally left a bottle of vodka on board last summer, so we poured a good dose down his throat, and that quieted him down for the extraction. Last seen a bit glassy eyed as he drifted away. But I think that's enough fishing while on the banks, as that's about all we seem to catch. Based on the weather forecast, we think we should be heading for some place with westerly protection on Tuesday to weather a front on Wednesday, so we are going to push a bit further south tomorrow to see as much as possible here. And fortunately, the boats seem to be spreading out, with a few remaining in Flamingo, and three going to Man of War Cay, just a couple of miles south of Flamingo, so we should see fewer boats from now on, and give us better anchorages.
02/08/2007, Flamingo Cay, Jumentos Islands, Bahamas
We woke up to a first for us in Bahamas... a rainy morning! It was completely overcast and a steady rain was falling. Usually we get a shower, normally quite heavy, lasting 10 minutes or so, then clearing off. But today was more like a rainy day at home. So we checked in on the weather, had a leisurely breakfast, read, I played with the SSB radio (I can do it for hours), checked the email (and heard from friends cruising in the Abacos that Skye, John & Connie Car from PEI pulled in beside them), did a few chores, and by mid-morning the rain had stopped, and there were signs of clearing so we set out.
Tabatha had set out in the rain earlier, but we didn't have the interest in getting underway in the rain, so we were alone at water cay when we pulled out. We set out for a short sail down to Flamingo Cay, about 10 miles to the south. As usual, we put the fishing line in the water, and started south. On the way down we had a couple of hits on the lure, but they didn't set. Then as we were just getting set to motor in to the Flamingo Cay anchorage (which is just the lee side of the cay with a few indentations that are called coves), zzzzzzzzing, went the reel! I grabbed for it and watched a beautiful mahi-mahi (a delicious and very spirited game fish between 20 and 40 pounds) leap out of the water behind us! He landed, took off and I tightened the drag to slow him down, but he just bit off the leader and swam off. As I dejectedly reeled in, I watched another $15 lure disappear. But what made me annoyed was why would someone make a lure for gamefish, and put a plastic leader on it? When I reeled in the remains of the leader, it was obvious where the fish's teeth had chewed through with ease! And there is no easy way to replace it with a steel leader. Oh well... So we motored in to Flamingo Cay, and found the recommended anchoring spot chocked with 7 boats. So much for remoteness of the Jumentos!
We then motored down to where Tabatha had anchored, and although there was plenty of room, could not get the anchor to set. Eric on Tabatha had called me and warned me about the rocky bottom. We tried for over half an hour in various spots, but it was just a skim of sand on flat rock, so there was no way to get an anchor to set. Eric had changed anchors and finally just decided to say he was set. But I am not comfortable with that, so we left and found a nice spot with great holding in sand. As it is a bit close to shore, I put out a second anchor to limit our swinging. Anchors set, we got the snorkeling gear out and set off.
We found a beautiful coral patch just a short distance from the boat where I harassed a few grouper, but I doubt I scared them. Then another dinghy came along and asked if we were interested in conch. I said yes, except I had no idea how to clean it. No problem, they would teach me! So off we went and I quickly found five nice sized conch, enough for two meals. But the cleaning was something else. I won't go into the gory details, but it took me just about one hour to clean all five, Then about another half hour to "tenderize" (pound flat) them. But in the end, it was well worth it with cracked conch, cole slaw and rice & beans with a nice cold chardonnay to match it.
Tomorrow we will play it by ear, and decide whether to stay here another day, or move on. As always, the weather forecast will play a large role in our decision. And as I write, the wind has sprung up annoyingly and unforcasted from the north, creating a very nice chop for us!
02/07/2007, Water Cay, Jumentos Islands, Bahamas
Yesterday morning the whole fleet in Thompson was obviously listening to the forecast, as by the time we hoisted anchor at 8:15 am, the fleet had dropped from about 25 boats to 12, and as we sailed westward, we saw about six others leave behind us, so that the bay must have no more than six or so boats left this morning.
The forecast sounds good into next week, so we set out for the Jumentos Islands, a chain of cays about 40 miles westward of Thompson Bay. The route, across open water, is in places so shallow (where we are out of sight of land) that we have timed our passage for high tide to ensure we can make it. We should be OK as we only draw 5' with our centerboard up (and 10' 6" with it down, but it is only necessary to put it down sailing into the wind, which is not the case today). We are traveling with another boat, Tabatha, a Rival 40 from England. Eric and Sue Orme have their two young daughters Elsepeth and Pita (ages about 7 & 9)with them, so it will be fun to have the company. But Tabatha draws 6', so we are in the lead, and will warn them of any shallow spots.
The Jumentos are virtually uninhabited, with only one cay that may have one hermit on it. Below them stretch the Ragged Islands, also uninhabited except for a community, Duncan Town, on one island of less than 100 people. They are a popular destination for fishing boats out of Salt Pond (the town in Thompson Bay) who come over and fish for a few days then return. The problem with the Jumentos and Ragged Islands is that there is virtually no protection from any direction except north-east through south-east. Hence the reason for waiting for a good forecast. In fact, from Duncan Town, it is closer to Cuba than Georgetown or Thompson Bay. But that is for another year.
Well, we made it (and Tabatha too) across the shallows and are now reaching south-west in about 18 knots of wind down to the top of the Jumentos. But the upper ones are so small that they provide no protection for anchoring, so we will sail on by to Water Cay. At the end of the bank, our course meets a course down from Georgetown (through Hog Cay Cut) where met up with three other boats, obviously headed for the same place. So with at least one down there (we heard him on the radio this morning), that makes 8 in all. Not quite so remote as it once was! But that will probably be it.
We arrived at Water Cay just as three catamarans that we met at Hog Cay Cut pulled in ahead of us. They seemed to do a lot of dithering about selecting an anchorage, wandering about, and generally getting in front of us as we tried to run down the cay to the spot we had selected. Finally we just rolled past, waved and left them to their dithering. They did eventually get anchored about 1/2 mile above us, and we are nicely tucked in for the night. To be certain, I took the dinghy out and checked the anchor with our glass (plastic)-bottomed "lookie" bucket to ensure it was buried in good sand, and it was fine.
As with all small islands that are close to the ocean, there is a roll that is nearly impossible to get out of, and Water Cay is no exception. But it isn't very big, and we are pointed nearly into it, so we are looking forward to a quiet evening and some nice snorkeling tomorrow. Today I caught another barracuda, but threw him back after a good fight to recover my lure. That;s enough trolling on the banks!
02/06/2007, Thompson Bay, Long Island, Bahamas
Yesterday morning when I looked out over the Conception Bay anchorage at 7:00 am, there was an exodus underway. Overnight there were six boats, including a dive boat that came in just after sunset. But this morning, we were the last boat to leave, and had the anchor up at 7:15 am.
Listening to the weather report confirmed the coming front would arrive in the early evening bringing north-westerly winds of 25-30 knots, so it was truely time to leave as the protection, while good, would not be as good as Thompson Bay. As well, we had pretty much seen all we wanted to of Conception Island, and two more days would make it a bit long. So we left it and headed back to Long Island. A boat ahead of us reported catching a mahi-mahi, so we were prepared, but no luck. We did catch two nice sized snapper that made an excellent dinner last night and lunch today, but no deep-sea fish YET!
Rounding the point into Thompson Bay, we were surprised to see almost 30 boats at anchor. But it is a large anchorage capable of three times that number with ease, so we found a nice spot close under the lee of the shore and dropped the anchor. And coming in just behind us was the front, with winds clocking 180 degrees in less than ten minutes and rising from 8-10 knots to 25-30 at the same time. We recognized quite a few boats in the anchorage, but chose to chat on the VHF rather than in person, staying on the boat to ensure the anchor was well set.
So we settled down to our dinner of very fresh snapper with rice & beans and a zucchini stir-fry (with Marie Sharp's hot sauce from Belize for spicyness). Desserts were getting a bit sketchy, but we cured that problem today. Then in the evening we watched a Seinfeld episode on DVD.
Although the wind howled all night, we had a great sleep in the protection of the bay, so woke, as usual at 6:30 am to check the weather report. First is Chris Parker. He suggested that the winds would let up later in the week so I called him and asked him about a Jumentos forecast, and it looks good. Perhaps if it is confirmed tomorrow, we'll head out. And the other forecasts (weatherfax and NOAA via email) confirmed it, so it looks good.
Meanwhile, it continued to blow all day, so the morning was spent doing a bit of preventative maintenance. I closed and opened all the seacocks, to make sure they didn't stick and I also spent some time organizing photos, reading and tidying up my spare parts inventory. After a "snappy" (pun) lunch of sauteed snapper, cole slaw and tomato, we headed ashore and bought some fresh goods, including nice grapes for dessert. Again, setting off to the store, we were offered a ride within minutes.
After shopping, we started out walking, and as we needed the exercise, we turned down two offers of drives on the one mile return. So dinner tonight will be grouper we bought, with rice & beans and for dessert grapes & cheese. So hopefully tomorrow we'll be off again!
02/04/2007, Conception Island, Bahamas
Yesterday and today have been perfect days, warm, sunny, and with a light breeze. We spent yesterday snorkeling and beach combing, reading and doing a few boat chores. But my maintenance/repair list remains remarkably short (knock on wood).
Beach combing led to a few odd items, including a computer monitor, a few Portuguese fishing floats, an Amaryllis bulb that appears to be alive (we will try to get it to sprout) and a vacuum tube (a triode, I think) together with piles of plastic of all shapes and sizes. The beach is on the Atlantic side, so collects everything that has blown all the way from Europe, and that's lots!
The reefs we snorkeled were fantastic in their shapes, with lots of twists and turns in them. In 20' of water, they rose from the sandy bottom straight up to be exposed at low tide. But they don't look healthy to us. There is not a lot of color, and the living coral is covered with silt, and there is lots of dead coral. At least that's what it looks like to us. And it wasn't just in one isolated area. We went to a lot of areas and saw the same picture. And with the dying coral, there are few fish to be seen. So we wonder what is causing it.
Then we went hiking across a short path to another beach and up some cliffs for a short hike. On Friday night there were 5 boats here, 3 of which were Canadian. For dinner, we had the veal chops with a corn relish, sweet potatoes and parsnips. Desserts are getting a bit scarce, so it was grapes and cheese. Last night there were 14 boats. Then this morning, it was like the fleet pulling out and we were down to four! The weather forecast is for a front to come through Monday night with strong N-E winds, so most are heading for some better protection.
Last night, just after dark, we had the heaviest rain shower since we arrived in the Bahamas. And we welcomed it! It lasted for about 45 minutes, and did a great job of washing the boat. It was covered with salt from both our sail down to Thompson Bay and the run from Lee Stocking Island, over two weeks ago. So it is great to be able to walk around the deck and not get covered with salt! This morning we listened to the weather to confirm our decision to stay, then headed off in the dinghy for a cruise in the mangrove swamps that make up much of the center of the island. They were not buggy at all, and we saw at least two dozen turtles. I don't know why they are there, but the cruising guide said we would see them, and we did. It was a beautiful place, and except for coming close to swamping the dinghy at the exit, it was a great morning.
In the afternoon, we read, did some more beach combing and snorkling again, this time on some better looking coral. Next to us is a Sabre 40 from Camden Maine. We ran into them this morning while exploring the mangrove swamps. We chatted about Maine and Camden, and he said that he is the owner of Peter Otts Tavern, a restaurant where we have eaten many times. Small world! We will wait until tomorrow to leave, as it is supposed to continue fine until Monday night, when we will be back in Thompson Bay.
02/02/2007, Conception Island, Bahamas
Lobster Louie came out and saw his shadow, so six more weeks of cruising!!! Yesterday we went off in the car for the morning, and headed north. We set out at 7:30 am, an early start, so that we could get to Cape Santa Maria and see the Columbus monument.
Like the other attractions on Long Island, there were no signs, so we took a couple of wrong turns, finally ending up at the Cape Santa Maria Resort, a beautiful resort on Calabash bay, owned by a Victoria BC businessman. Calabash Bay is a beautiful bay, about 10 miles across, completely ringed by beautiful white sandy beaches. It is usually a rolly anchorage, but in today's calm, it might be a nice stop, perhaps going ashore for dinner! They gave us directions to the monument (and a cd advertising the resort) which we found perched on the high cliffs of Cape Santa Maria.
Even in the light (15 knots) winds it was a rugged looking spot, one to keep well clear of when rounding the cape, with waves breaking on its offshore reefs 2 miles out. I found the monument a bit ironic, as it was a tribute to both Columbus and the "gentle and peaceful Lucayan Indians". The Spanish, with Columbus aid, proceeded to enslave and eventually exterminate them.
After walking around, we headed back south, stopping a few times, once to pick some Papaya (which was ripe but bitter), and again twice to investigate so-called marinas. Only one (the only one on Long Island) was even remotely like a marina, and it was really just a boatyard for repairing local fishing boats with a protected basin. Not a luxury marina, but it would be a good stop in stormy weather. One final stop at a fish wholesaler, where Cav and Debbie wanted to buy conch, but no luck, but we bought some grouper, mahi-mahi, and, of all things, excellent looking veal chops! So we are well stocked. We returned the car at noon, our 24 hour rental complete. Then back to the boat for lunch.
In the afternoon, we decided to go ashore to go shopping. As the mail boat, which brings fresh fruit and vegetables, comes in on Wednesday, Thursday is a good shopping day. We landed the dinghy on the beach just near our anchorage and walked the short path to the road. It was a (hot) 2.5 miles to the store, so we were walking slowly when, not more than 2 minutes into our walk, a car stopped and offered us a lift. We gratefully accepted. They dropped us at the store (and we were a bit surprised at how far it was) and we did our shopping. Our lift had said they would be returning later in the afternoon and would keep an eye out for us, but we started walking, and this time it was within one minute when we were offered a lift. Talking to other boaters, we learned that this is not unusual, and many people explore the island just by hitch-hiking. A very friendly spot!
For dinner, we had a grilled lobster tail we had bought yesterday, with cole slaw and potato salad. And a nice piece of cake, sort of like a fruit cake, with whipped cream, for desert. And in the heat, a nice cold white wine was an essential part of the meal!
We got up as usual at 6:30 to listen to the weather forecast(s) and decided that the forecast for the next few days remains settled, so after a quick breakfast we were off to Conception Island. In the light winds, it was a motor-sail the whole way, but that was OK as it gave us a chance to make water. In Thompson Bay there is a very fine silt in the water that will quickly plug the filters in the watermaker, so we ran our tanks down pretty well.
To get to Conception Island, we had to sail north along the west coast of Long Island, on a bank the whole way. So that meant the water was no more that 10' deep even 5 miles offshore. And again, I had a lure out trolling, and caught another barracuda, but this time he was big, about 3' long, so too big to take a chance eating, so I (carefully!) let him go. The razor sharp teeth can be dangerous, but I wanted my $12 lure back. So the last we saw of him, he was swimming off looking a bit dazed.
For some reason, our autopilot's electronic compass has decided to go out of calibration, and now it reads 20 degrees lower than the actual course. It still follows the course if you compensate, but it takes some getting used to. I have the manual, but it is total gibberish (the autopilot manufacturer is Cetrek, made in England). There are some poorly written instructions that may be helpful, if I ignore the fact that at places they refer the reader to pages that are either blank or non-existent. But it is quite old, and I have, up to this point, been surprised that it hasn't caused trouble. Bur after a couple of hours of re-reading and fiddling, I managed to get into the calibration mode and get it re-calibrated.
This is the hottest day we have had yet. What breeze there is is coming from the south at about 5 knots, and with us traveling north (then north-east), the apparent breeze is just about zero, so we have spent most of the time perspiring, drinking water and sitting quietly in the shade. We saw a cruise ship slowly steaming (I guess diesel powered ships don't really steam) south, but it was about 5 miles away. We also passed a dive boat that we had seen in Georgetown and had been talking to, but that was about it.
Reaching Conception Island, we were the fourth boat into the anchorage, and the third Canadian. We had time to launch the dinghy run ashore and have a short walk before it was sunset and time for a SG&T. Tonight's dinner will be pork loin chops that had somehow gotten themselves out of the freezer and thawed, with sweet potatos and parsnips, followed by the last of the fruit cake (or whatever it is). Tomorrow we will do some snorkling and diving. Conception Island is a nature preserve, so no fishing, but there will be lots of sea life.